The students were really wound up yesterday about the Prose piece—they were out for blood! It was a great discussion; they were particularly put off by her condescending tone, though many eventually found that they agreed with some of her points (but still said they didn’t like her!). They also found lots of contradictions in logic, which was great, too, because they are using their tools for analysis to back up their claims. Since they had such as strong reaction, I thought it would be a good time for them to hear the author speak—to put a face to the piece, to see how the writing voice and speaking voice work together. Bedford/St. Martin’s press has a nice set of teacher resources for the book, one being a link to an interview with Francine Prose, which she talks about some of the issues from the article. We will watch the eight minute video, and I will ask students to jot down things they agree with, are surprised by, disagree with, etc.
After watching the video, we will have an open discussion about it, addressing some of the questions she addresses and how they relate to the piece (the interview is a couple years after the article; while she talks about it, she also talks about other facets of teaching, such as what books she likes to teach and why). I will also ask specifically how or if their views changed after seeing the video.
Today seemed like a good day to do a silent sharing activity with their letters to the editor. So often students share writing that in some way is evaluated, or commented on right away. Additionally, verbally sharing is nice and can lead to strong discussions, but sometimes certain voices get highlighted, and the audience is for the ideas and not the writing. This activity shakes all of that up. It is a simple process: each person in the circle, including me (I wrote one, too), passes their writing to their left, and receives a new one from their right. And then reads. When they are done, they pass it along (if a class has a broad span of reading skills, I will watch until everyone is done, then cue students to pass). This continues until every student has read every piece, and gets their own back (with a large class, you may split up into two groups).
At the end, I will ask for a few comments on interesting things people read, but that is it. The activity is meant to give everyone a voice, read what everyone else is thinking, and enjoy each other’s writing without any real evaluation. Of course, by me participating, I am sending around a model (I wrote a couple paragraphs from a teacher’s perspective, providing a different view; I made sure to reference specific portions of Prose’s piece, as well, to model the criteria I gave them), and getting to read everyone’s as formative assessment, so it is a great way to “hear” what everyone is thinking.
Next Steps: This long piece by Prose was a bit of a transition to a couple more philosophical readings that would fall under the guise of “literature”—“A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin and a piece next week by Emerson. Tonight they will read the Baldwin piece and answer a series of questions from the textbook (I’m asking them to answer specific questions from the text in part because there is a standardized test they are working towards, and I think comfort with questions is very important. The other reason is that the questions are dedicated to close reading of specific paragraphs and questions. When I asked students to complete reading sheets a few times last week, they continued to generalize their answers too often. So I think working with these types of questions will build close reading skills so they can then be more specific in their analyses.